Real Journalism Still Matters in this World – Just Ask Valentino Dixon

The largest circulated sports magazine in the world has another plaudit to add to its wall – champion of freedom. You may have seen the viral story about Valentino Dixon, a man wrongly convicted of murder who was finally released after serving almost 30 years in jail.

What you may not have heard is the story behind the story and how Golf Digest’s commitment to service to its audience ended up changing the course of Mr. Dixon’s life.

“Golf is a passionate sport, so passion is a word that we use a lot. It’s what really connects our readers to what we produce,” explained Golf Digest’s EIC Jerry Tarde to Folio:’s Caysey Welton. “About five or six years ago, we were doing a series called ‘Golf Saved My Life.’ It was about people who used golf to rehabilitate themselves or to recover from tragedy. Golf if a redemptive pursuit. There isn’t a golfer who doesn’t play in charity events or in some way contribute back to the community—it’s part of the fabric of the game. Those stories touch the human spirit, so at the end of each article, we included a note that encouraged readers to write our editors with their own stories.

“Max Adler, our editorial director who was the author of the series, received a letter that had a return address of Attica Correctional Facility,” Tarde continued. “Obviously he opened it gingerly and found a letter from an inmate who was convicted of second-degree murder and turned to golf in an odd circumstance. The warden knew he was an artist and asked him to do a rendition of the twelfth hole at Augusta using a photograph. Dixon had never been on a golf course, but he drew an imaginative four-color drawing and it piqued his interest. He somehow connected with golf and it turned into hundreds of more drawings. He brought them to our attention and in this well-crafted letter he said to Max, in effect, ‘by the way, I’m innocent; I didn’t do what I was accused of and if you saw my drawings, I think you would get a glimmer of my innocence.’”

That’s not something that comes across your desk every day in publishing. But there it was in front of Max. And he didn’t drop it and move on; Max spent the next five years pursuing justice for Dixon, and finally, the day came.

“Max got a phone call about a week before his release and was on the courthouse steps when Dixon was released,” Welton writes.

It’s an incredible story, and especially more so when you stop a minute and realize that we are talking about a golf magazine – not a major news brand or a bastion of investigative journalism. Yet there they were, pursuing this story that came from their audience and landed in their laps.

“Since then, a lot has happened,” Tarde writes. “There’s interest in a book, a documentary, or even a movie about Valentino’s life. Max is also working with our team here at Condé Nast to develop an art exhibit in New York to benefit Valentino and launch his career as an artist. It’s a proud moment for us; it’s a little out of our mainstream of instruction and equipment or following the [PGA] Tour, but I think it cuts to the heart of golfers and the compassion that they have for others.”

This story goes so far beyond “heartwarming.” Yes, it’s certainly that, and yet it speaks to the profound heart of long-form journalism centered on a brand’s mission. To Max, Jerry and the entire team at Golf Digest that knew a good story and wouldn’t let it drop — thank you for being true to your craft.